Some time has passed since the turtles last fought Shredder. Vern Fenwick has taken all of the credit for their victory, as they had agreed, in order to preserve the anonymity of the turtles. Shredder remains in custody, and things have largely settled down.
That peace doesn’t last long, however, as the Foot Clan, under the direction of the goofy scientist Baxter Stockman, puts a plan into motion to break Shredder loose. As bad as that is, another force just as sinister but even more powerful, has intentions of world-domination. This film follows the turtles as they fight to put an end to the machinations of all of these villains, even while coming to terms with conflict between the brothers themselves.
You might think that this film is aimed at children because of the whole “mutant turtles” thing. It’s not, really. The characters, dialogue and plot are straight out of a kid’s cartoon. However, the action, while bloodless, is a bit much for little kids. Meagan Fox is highly sexulized in at least one scene. Some of the character designs are meant to be scary in appearance on a level that little kids might find too much. Depending on how any given set of parents decides to raise their child, the language is also more adult than they would expect to see in a kids movie.
This film is aimed primarily at adults. A very particular kind of adult – one who grew up loving the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. That means adults who love the characters and their relationships and the cool action scenes, but it also means adults who might put up with stereotypes, cliches, cheesy dialogue, and over-the-top plots that barely cling together. This is the only group who will let the rest of the film’s sizeable flaws slide at all.
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” is a vast improvement on the first film, and it does it mostly by embracing the franchise’s roots as a cartoon. Unfortunately, that same tactic is also a source of the film’s many flaws.
The filmmakers mostly nail characterization, and they put the focus where it should be all along: The turtles. Each of our half-shelled heroes are given time and dialogue to be who fans expect them to be. The new addition, Stephen Amell, has the most non-turtle screen-time as Casey Jones, but Megan Fox and Will Arnett’s characters are mercifully turned into bit-players this time around. Unfortunately, the script didn’t give Amell much to work with, and he just doesn’t come across as the Casey Jones fans remember.
The best thing about the movie is the action sequences. The early convoy escape and chase was fun and delightfully cartoony with the turtle van sporting some crazy weapon-systems. The fight that begins with the planes in the sky and continues all the way down a raging river is just about perfect and had me grinning the whole way through.
However, in between the action sequences, the film bogs down. The action resembles the cartoons, but the plot and dialogue both resemble cartoons as well. The script writers didn’t do a good job with the interpersonal relationships, and plot points jump from one to the next haphazardly, making little sense along the way. Exposition is everywhere, and motivations are thin. For every moment I enjoyed, there was a moment of eye-rolling stupidity and childishness.
The worst thing is, many of the conflicts built throughout the film, like the siblings’ conflict and the ambitions of Shredder, are tossed aside with poor resolutions. Instead we are given a showy but shallow fight in the sky that carries no weight or emotional connection outside of fanboy nostalgia for seeing a villain that has never been on the big screen before. The whole last act is unsatisfying.
If you can completely turn off your brain, there is some enjoyment to be found. However, while this sequel is much better in many regards than it’s predecessor, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” just goes…
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There are two movies battling one another for attention within this one. If they were split off into two, I think they both would have fared much, much better. The first, and more compelling movie is about the turtle brothers’ infighting over whether they should be mutants or not, while Shredder tries to build a mutant army. The second movie is an inter-dimensional alien invasion film centered on the arrival and manipulations of the other villain.
The sibling conflict is intriguing in concept, but the setup and resolution are terrible. There’s no real musing over what it would be like to have a “normal” life or what it would mean for the turtles, or what it means to stay mutants who fight evil from the shadows. The closest is Mikey who gets to have a few seconds of fun in a parade, otherwise the conflict resolves almost entirely on how much some brothers knew or didn’t know about the process. All of their infighting is “resolved” with a meaningful look over a computer screen. That’s it. It’s a real wasted opportunity, and could have been the heart that the movie so badly needed.
Shredder, meanwhile, is better designed this time around, but he mostly gets to walk around and glare at his minions. In fact… now that I think about it, I don’t think he fought anyone once in the whole film. He is upstaged by his own minions, Beebop and Rocksteady, who are loads of fun and provide the best laughs. The actors behind each part were clearly enjoying themselves. I really wish the film had used them and Shredder more
.In the end, Shredder isn’t even the big bad guy. A familiar and iconic TMNT villain becomes the real threat, but his presence is ultimately unsatisfying, as there is only one very short scene to set him up, ally himself with Shredder, and explain his plan. It really feels shoehorned in, and it feels out of character for Shredder to trust him so fully from that first meeting. While it’s cool to see this character on screen, it hurt the film, and fell flat.
All of these plot concept issues pile on top of ridiculous and exposition heavy dialogue, annoying side-characters and eye-rolling logic to make this a pretty bad film overall. So why am I not panning the film? There are a few elements that, independent of the film they are trapped in, are pretty much terrific.
I already mentioned my two favorite action scenes in the Short Take, but I want to emphasize how much fun the sky and river battle sequence was. There were character moments everywhere. There was always something new and visually interesting happening. Humor was mixed in alongside the explosions and chaos.
Yes, I had to turn my brain off. That whole scene, if following the laws of physics, would have been brutal and deadly to anyone but kooky cartoon characters. It sure was good fun, though.
Outside of the action sequences, the turtles were the best part. The turtles exhibit the traits fans expect from the cartoon, and revel in fun and frantic action. Unlike the last film, they take firm center-stage, while the human characters are mostly sidelined. The best scenes in the movie all have a minimal human presence, and they all have the turtles, or the other stand-outs – Beebop and Rocksteady.
Keping April O’Neal and Vern Fenwick mostly on the sidelines was an excellent decision. I cringed every time Will Arnett’s character came on screen. If he had even a minute more, it might have actually crossed over from merely annoying to full-on hatred. Meagan Fox had far fewer opportunities to be annoying as well, and served her purpose in bringing in the male audience. It’s still a shame they won’t hire an actress who could bring some real life to the character, but at least I didn’t hate every time she was on screen.
The new actors don’t really add many layers to the film, but they are worth noting for different reasons. Tyler Perry’s Baxter Stockman was silly and the most geeky villain-scientist I’ve ever seen. I’m not that familiar with his character, but I thought he was fun to watch. Stephen Amell is a good actor, but man was he given some cheesy lines. Within a few minutes of speaking with most people, he just can’t help himself and tells them about how he dreams of being a detective (or something like that). He doesn’t feel like the cocky and sarcastic Casey Jones fans love, but rather an anime hero. Of course this is just his origin story, so maybe he’ll come back in the next one with some new wisecracks that we didn’t get to see this time around.
Conclusion and Star Rating:
In the end, the biggest central problem this movie has is its lack of spirit. It’s nerdy. It’s funny at times – sure – and it has fanservice for days, but it just doesn’t have much heart. The closest we get is with the turtle brothers and their interpersonal conflicts, but as I mentioned previously, it’s all set up for nothing. There is no satisfaction or payoff.
Because of this lack of connection between the viewer and the film, all of the other errors seem much more egregious. If there had been some sort of real emotional weight to anything on screen, or the outcome of any of the conflicts, many of the film’s other flaws would be relatively easy to look over as a fan. In the end, that’s not what we got.
At its best, the film is full of mostly fun, but very dumb action. At its worst, it’s not worth the time of day. If you want brainless spectacle, there are some solid bits of enjoyment to be found. However, there is no denying that “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” is a “Mediocre” movie.
The only big spoiler I really danced around was the appearance of Krang.
I like Krang’s design, though I wish they hadn’t overplayed the whole “shove Krang into the robot’s stomach” thing. It was also fun seeing the technodrome (even if it was never completed). However, Krang’s story line takes away from other story lines, and it was poorly set-up. The first scene between him and Shredder is utterly ludicrous. None of it makes sense, and Shredder totally doesn’t act like a real person (villain or otherwise) in that same situation. It kicked me completely out of the movie.
Oh, something else – They never really “Came Out of the Shadows.” I mean, what, to the police? Sure, they revealed themselves to the police, but that is either A) Not “Coming Out of the Shadows” at all since we’re still not talking about being publicly acknowledged heroes, or B) Totally coming “Out of the Shadows” because, seriously, how many of those police officers aren’t going to talk about it – and don’t feed me the “no one would believe him” thing. There is at least one pizza delivery-guy in New York who could corroborate their story.
In any case, that’s it for now. Until next time!